By Erik Cassano
It all started with a frustrated dairy farmer, whose cows were rubbing against his fences and making them ineffective.
Around 1980, Don Kendall’s father, Charles, noticed the cows on his farm near Blairsville, Pennsylvania were rubbing against posts and wire to reach the greener grass on the other side; over time, the wire was no match for the animals’ thick hides.
“My dad wanted to replace his fencing with a better system,” Kendall says. “He located a fencing company founded by New Zealanders that had developed a new fence system that involved stringing the wire under very high tension with fewer posts. The high-tensile wire and powerful electric fence energizers make it difficult for the animals to damage the fence.”
After installing the fence system on his own farm, he began selling the unique, long-lasting fence materials and building it for other farmers in the region—and Kencove Farm Fence Supplies was born. Nearly 40 years later, the company—with Kendall as president—has nearly 100 employees and sells fencing to customers nationwide.
At the outset, Kencove took a decidedly low-tech approach to business as a family-run, mail-order company that advertised primarily through direct mail pieces, classified ads in farm magazines, and appearances at farm shows. But under the low-tech approach, the wheels of innovation were turning.
“Even back in the ’80s, we were working with post and wire manufacturers and New Zealand suppliers to improve the pricing and quality of the fencing system,” Kendall says. “We worked with other manufacturers to develop crimping sleeves, tools, and insulators.”
It was part of a strategic approach to growth, rooted in carefully planned investments in technology, business acquisitions, and geographic expansion.
“Our first major acquisition was a company in Indiana,” Kendall says. “Since then, we’ve acquired companies in Missouri and Idaho, and constructed our own distribution and production plants in Missouri and Georgia. The idea has been to create a wide footprint that allows us to be very responsive as far as getting products to customers quickly.”
Geography hasn’t been the only consideration, particularly when it has come to acquisitions. In recent years, Kencove’s leaders have sought innovative advancements for installing fence posts, an important consideration when building fences under high tension.
“One of our acquisitions involved a company that supplied gas-powered post drivers,” Kendall says. “We’re now one of the leaders in gas-powered drivers. We’ve also acquired rock-breaker application ability, for installing fence posts in rocky ground. It increases the base of customers we can serve, regardless of the farm’s terrain.”
Working on the business
Kencove’s culture of innovation doesn’t just look outward, it looks inward, as well. While advancements in fencing and fence installation technology are critical to Kencove’s growth, the company would be a lot less effective in bringing those advancements to market without investments in the inner workings of the company.
It’s something Kendall has been involved with since his teenage years, well before coming aboard as a full-time team member in 2000.
“I wrote the company’s first website in 1994,” he says. “We were the first fencing company in Pennsylvania with a web presence. In college, I created the company’s first e-commerce system. We have always looked to technology as a means of being responsive and doing so without the need for many layers of administrative people.”
The results of the investments in people and technology have built Kencove into a leader in its space—and it eventually purchased the New Zealand fencing company that Kendall’s father had worked with in the early 1980s.
“All the investments and acquisitions—everything we do—is really to try and answer the needs of our customers,” Kendall says. “We embrace technology without hiding behind it. We have 10 salespeople who are always on the phones, communicating with our customers. And while we use our website continuously, promoting our blog and conversing with customers in that way, we still do direct-mail marketing. And we still do farm shows.
“We work constantly to try to improve the experience we give to our customers.”
Banking with depth
Kendall has worked with a number of banks. All of them touted a wide array of services, but only Huntington has, as Kendall puts it, “depth.”
“We’ve worked with Huntington on a line of credit for inventory expansion and acquisitions,” says Kendall. “We’ve also worked with them on financing a self-insured health care policy, as well as retirement and 401(k) plans. It’s nice to work with a bank that has depth in those areas. Some banks say they have that, but they end up being very small with little depth to their services.”
No matter what financial services Kencove has needed, Huntington has provided specialists with deep experience.
“Huntington gives us the flexibility to keep growing,” Kendall says. “They have tremendous resources at their disposal, and they use those resources to help us in any way they can. That is why we continue to do business with them.”
For more information, visit kencove.com.